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  • The Origins of Sheffield Wednesday by Jason Dickinson

    It may seem strange to modern day followers of the ‘beautiful game’ that as relatively recently as the mid-19th Century the game of Association Football was still a pastime only practised in a handful of public schools and universities in England. In fact that early form of the sport was more akin to rugby than it was football with handling, charging and tripping all allowed in a rather crude and somewhat rough early incarnation of today’s multi-billion pound product.

    Sheffield - Microsoft Word - Document1 Wednesday FC team photograph from the late 1880s

    The first shoots of today’s game started to grow in the Northern cutlery town of Sheffield in 1857 when two gentlemen – silver-plate manufacturer Nathaniel Creswick and wine merchant William Prest – formed the club’s first and oldest football club, Sheffield FC. The rise of the game amongst the populous was actually accelerated in that period through two acts of Parliament with the 1847 and 1850 Factory Acts dramatically changing the day to day lives of the working man and woman. In short, the working week became significantly more defined and crucially a Saturday half-day was introduced with all factories expected to be closed by 2pm. Suddenly there was more free time to pursue leisure activities and the main social activity to benefit was the new and exciting sport of Association Football. The new sport was also embraced by the Victorian gentry who had initially supported the game of cricket in the early 19th Century as it pulled the populous away from awful and inhumane sports of yore, such as bear baiting and dog fighting. The new game was also promoted as a pastime that improved both mind and body and as the 1860s dawned clubs started to spring up around the UK, with Hallam FC providing a rival for Sheffield in the town and the likes of Notts County (1862) & Nottingham Forest (1865) being formed. The sport was also starting to thrive in the south and it was not long before the Football Association was formed (1863) with football played under ‘Cambridge Rules’ by the southerners and ‘Sheffield Rules’ by the northerners!

    Sheffield - Microsoft Word - Document1 The Cromwell Cup - the second oldest trophy in world football, won by Wednesday Football Club in 1868 and still in the club's boardroom today.

    The year of 1867 was significant as the first ever football trophy – the Youdan Cup – was competed for in Sheffield (won by Hallam FC) while a year later the Cromwell Cup (won by new boys Wednesday FC) showed there was great interest in the knock out format of the game. In fact the town of Sheffield is rightly lauded as contributing more to the game than anywhere else as in addition to cup-tie football the goal kick, corner flag, neutral referee, throw in, goal kick, half-time, trophies and extra time were all introduced in the town, amongst many others than remain in the rule book today. As the game took root in the nation’s heart, the FA Cup was introduced in 1871 with the Sheffield Challenge Cup commencing in 1876, won by the Wednesday Club – both competitions continue to be played today although the entrants in the respective tournaments do now differ quite considerably!

    The Sheffield and Cambridge rules ceased in 1878 – the sport was played under one defined set of rules from that point forward – and by the late 1880s the game was being played in every village, town and city in England. It was Aston Villa Chairman William McGregor who thought it would a good idea to start a league competition, guaranteeing regular and competitive matches and duly in September 1888 twelve clubs commenced the first season of the new Football League – the game would never be the same.

    Sheffield - 9781445619521

    Jason Dickinson's The Origins of Sheffield Wednesday is available for purchase now.

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